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Editor, John Evans

Midweek Mysticism: Books of the year

It’s that time of year again to look at the top books published in 2012, rate them, and consider their value as Christmas presents.

This year the field covers Mysticism, Spirituality, Science and Literature. Here are my top five:

1. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Dr Eben Alexander.

Top of the chart must be neurosurgeon, Dr Eben Alexander’s eye-popping account of the meningitis bugs that ate the human part of his brain and what happened after that.

“My near-death experience … took place not while my cortex was malfunctioning, but while it was simply off. … According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.”

He made a full recovery and wrote a fascinating account of his experiences when, according to science, he should have been dead. A must-read for anyone interested in the field, whether mysticism or neuroscience.

* * * * *
2. QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

This is a fine book, immensely readable and admirably covering the ground. At the end, Susan Cain homes-in on the story of Stephen Wozniak, whom you will not have heard of if you are not a nerd.

He was the true founder of Apple Computers — now with a world-beating market capitalisation of $600bn — only teaming up with Steve Jobs after he had designed and built by hand the first prototype of a modern personal computer with keyboard and screen. It was a seminal moment, and he did it at home in his bedroom. Typical.

* * * * *
3. The Lion’s World by Rowan Williams, outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Lion’s World examines C.S Lewis’s children’s book series about Narnia, a mythical world that only youngsters can see at first, but which develops into a broad metaphor for a field of action, an alternative world, dominated by the Christlike Aslan, a giant lion.

The books have their own slightly dotty charm which must be experienced not read about. As indeed does The Lion’s World, which I won’t labour too much. If you know Narnia and like the sound of this, I heartily recommend it.

* * * * *
4. War of the Worldviews: Science vs Spirituality

Deepak Chopra is a top-notch member of the aristocracy of writers on spirituality. His many insightful books over the years have covered topics as diverse as health, wealth, immortality and spiritual laws for parents. As a medical doctor he is also very much at home writing about science.

War of the Worldviews: Science vs Spirituality is co-authored with cosmologist Leonard Mlodinow, who also co-wrote The Grand Design with Stephen Hawking. Under a series of topics, each author has written a short essay, bouncing ideas off each other. It’s an exhilarating read.

* * * * *
5. The Science Delusion, by Dr Rupert Sheldrake

The biologist, Dr Rupert Sheldrake in his new book, explains the process of memory with the term morphic resonance. He points out that Ivan Pavlov, famous for his experiments on the conditioning of dogs, proved that this conditioning “could survive massive surgical damage to the brain”, showing that it was not brain-dependent.

Clearly, memories are not made of wired circuits within the skull, but have a non-local source more akin to telepathy than is conventionally understood. This extended mind, as Sheldrake terms it, is surrounding us at all times. We have built-in receptors to filter much of it out, but are mostly unaware of how this works. A worthy book and a fine read.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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Saturday Ramble: QUIET. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Extrovert I recently wrote a Diary piece about the hazards of travelling to work on the London Tube, especially the fact that nobody makes eye contact but focuses ferociously on books, eReaders or newspapers. In the close confines of that rattling cylinder, many feet below ground, it’s regarded as hostile to look directly at other people.

The reason, I concluded, was the presence of a “psychic soup” of everyone’s thoughts and emotions. Though normally lying beneath awareness, the train’s hot-house environment brings much of it to the surface, especially if you have some psychic abilities — at least 20pc of people do.

Perhaps the best popular account of this phenomenon is The Sense of Being Stared At by Rupert Sheldrake, a sense he links with the “extended mind”.

Susan Cain’s new book, QUIET. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is what I call a gobbler. You just can’t stop reading it. It’s compulsive from start to finish, especially if you take an interest in the outer limits of psychology.

The tendency to be bothered, or not, by the psychic soup appears as a high-reactive/low-reactive spectrum, as developed by Jerome Kagan, described as one of the greatest developmental psychologists of the 20th century. At 82 he’s still sharp, as the author found when she went to interview him.

Working with 500 four-month-old babies at Harvard, he found that they reacted very differently to various stimuli: balloons popping, colourful mobiles, the scent of alcohol and others. Some cried lustily, waving arms and pumping legs, while others remained cool and placid.

Which do you suppose will turn into extroverts and which become introverts? Clue: it’s counter-intuitive.

Yes, the shriekers are the future introverts; the will-be extroverts are not bovvered, not at all. Naturally, the neuroscientists have an explanation.

What these physical activists call the “emotional brain” — a rather primitive bit by all accounts — instructs the nervous system how to respond to the stimuli. The low-reactive brain says, “No problem, ignore it,” while the high-reactive bonce screams “Oh my God, it’s the end of the world!” Or words to that effect. The latter souls, then, tend more to withdrawal from the world, allowing greater control over the incoming noise.

It’s easy to go along with that explanation but, like all science, it fails to grasp the deeper aspects of the situation. Neuroscientists won’t allow any consciousness to exist outside the brain.

People with highly-developed pick-up, psychics and introverts, know that that opinion is flatly not true. Sheldrake’s work on the extended mind is meticulously worked and conforms to the highest scientific standards. You will have your own view, Reader.

Another fascinating chapter in Susan Cain’s gobbler covers the time she spent inside the Harvard Business School as an observer. I have to warn you that the famed Harvard method comes across as a disastrous conveyer belt for the production of one-eyed, half-brained idiots who have, and will, dominate the world of American capitalism for decades to come.

Now I’m basically a believer in free markets. The alternative, after all, is rigid state control — remember Gordon Brown and shudder. And yes, it was Harvard alumni who hired all those physicists to package up their Collaterised Debt Obligations and other financial instruments that virtually destroyed the world banking system in 2008.

Forget any threats from China or Islamic terrorists, it’s the Harvard squad we should fear the most.

As Susan Cain identifies, with impressive candour, Harvard favours extroverts and dismisses introverts. You’ll not make it through if you are the quiet one at the back. This means that those who shout loudest will be heard. The contemplative who has thought a proposition through will not gain traction in an environment where the extrovert bully gains sway every time.

The author also shows how introverts really are the top of the class when it comes to startling innovations and inventions. Albert Einstein could only work alone, he said, a modern open-plan office, Harvard-style, would kill his creativity.

And that goes for many others too, a situation that remains unnoticed in today’s flight towards communal workspaces and, calamitously, in our state schools where children are sat in circular groups, instead of at desks facing forward. They develop “groupthink” early, their precious creativity crushed. Such is the fate of our children in our education system.

I once worked in an open office, at the HQ of a major multinational in the City of London editing their monthly magazine. I’d put out article work to top journalists and politicians and write the rest myself under a series of pseudonyms.

It was great fun. But, it was hell on earth trying to work in that chicken-run, wide-open office environment. I usually escaped after a few hours and worked from home, running up gigantic telephone bills which I couldn’t reclaim on expenses.

Most of the innovators of new technology, now the new billionaires, have been deeply introverted. Susan Cain homes-in on the story of Stephen Wozniak, whom you will not have heard of if you are not a nerd.

He was the true founder of Apple Computers — now with a world-beating market capitalisation of $600bn — only teaming up with Steve Jobs after he had designed and built by hand the first prototype of a modern personal computer with keyboard and screen. It was a seminal moment, and he did it at home in his bedroom.

As I play around with my new Apple iPad, a miracle of techno wizardry worthy of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, I think of that first Apple computer, the only one of theirs I bought, and Wozniak’s lonely passage to Wikipedia hero.

He is, you could say, the founder of the modern world, and a magnificent introvert to boot. So was Jobs, as was Bill Gates, the other garage worker who built Microsoft. The Google boys, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are not noted for their public appearances either, but preferred the quiet of Stanford University’s electronic labs to do their much-acclaimed work.

QUIET. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a book anyone with a meditative temperament will relish. I’m not sure about all those bone-headed, shouty extroverts and the Harvard crew though.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Mysticism in the Modern World is coming soon.
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